Mother’s day toolbox

If you have read my blog post on our mother’s day experiences in adoption, you may be wondering how we navigate through the supercharged emotions – or more to the point how you are going to handle it!

Here is an insight into Mumdrah and CHT’s ‘tools for Mother’s Day’; we hope they help spark some ideas of your own.

The Preparation:

Step 1:  once I see the cards and the flowers and the adverts appear, I mentally prepare myself for a rough patch, and check myself over for any hidden expectations.  I am lucky that Mother’s Day does not hold much meaning for me, but it is still wise to remind myself that the root of mother’s day is about not in truth about mothers, but children; and I am likely not to be the ‘mother’ she is thinking about right now.

Step 2:  as the ‘sea of yellow’ approaches fever pitch in the stores, I warn her it is coming, and ask what she wants to talk about.  We then plot out the emotional landscape together. We i) come up with ideas on what she may or may want to do about the day, ii) explore what to do when people are unawares, forget or don’t understand how hard and different it is for her, iii) think of ways we might help people understand better in advance, and iv) identify her toolbox for coping.  We also remind ourselves that it is ok to v) feel conflicting emotions about people: I love you but I am angry too.

Step 3:  we make a plan for the inevitable situation that school will not give her enough time to make more than one card if she wants to so (i.e. buying another or making others at home).  This removes some pressure and anxiety.

The card/gifts:  she makes cards for who ever she wants to.   There are three main protagonists here – her Mother, her Foster Mum, and me – so be prepared for similar.

Making an active connection:   once we have the cards and/or gifts, we are not always allowed (or she may not actually want) to send them.  So we think of other ways to make a positive and active connection.   Sometimes we burn letters to send them up the chimney; just like we do for Santa.  We have also posted them with no address.  We sometimes light a candle.  She has a candleholder with ‘Mum’ written on it that she often uses to ‘feel close’ or even talk to her Mum.

Symbolic acts count emotionally, we find.   She always has lots of great ideas about these little rituals.

Be flexible:  what she wants can change minute by minute.  I respond to her ebb and flow and changes of heart and mood and scrap plans for new ones.  But there are times when she baulks last minute at doing anything, because her fear of opening herself to these hard emotions creates a barrier to doing what she really wants.  If it feels appropriate, I may gently take the lead here, by asking if she minds me going into another room with a candle to think about her Mum by myself.  Sometimes starting something this way helps her overcome whatever worries she had; she will usually join me and then I back off again.

Be Brave:  yes, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that this is one of the hardest days on the Adoption Calendar.  I find – for us – hiding from it has a worse impact than facing it.  It seems so important that she learns that whatever she is feeling is natural, and that I am always there and happy to help her navigate through.  We always seem to come out the other side frazzled, but a little stronger.

If you have any more suggestions and ideas – please share!

Mother’s Day

Hold fast; Mother’s Day is coming.

Mother’s Day – a sea of yellow

Every high street, every store, every advert and bar of chocolate is awash in a sea of yellow; our entire world is rebranded to portray the simple gentleness and love of a mother.   Schoolrooms are filled with glue, glitter and ribbon for making tributes, and talk naturally turns to family.

CHT makes her card, but there is a troubled reluctance in her eyes; sure signs of the first wave of inner turmoil as she fights to decide just who she should be making it for.

As she gives up and just makes it anyway, a second wave tumbles her into a seething mass of rapids as she tries but fails to share in the easy, familial chatter of her peers.

The current has her now, and there is no escaping the third wave as it swamps her in a tempest of boiling resentment against a life story that does not fit their mould nor their expectation.  The fourth then sweeps over her; like a tidal wave crashing through every defense releasing the power of her anguish out into the open for all to see.

Then the fifth and final wave – like a rip tide – claims her; drawing her back into thick primal fathoms that shut out all else but the crushing pain, and she is lost in the deeps once again.

These days plunge her headlong into unmapped depths of pain and murky uncertainty; force her back into those dreaded layers of endless salted questions that make her raw wounds sting and bleed once again.   Drowning, not waving, her struggles go unnoticed.  Worse still, the guidance and empathy she needs to help her through is missing; replaced with the censure of a teacher.

There is a heaviness in my heart as she comes home and retells the story of yet another day cast on the rocks of misunderstanding.  The endless inner wrestling on these troubled oceans is hard enough without this battery that threatens and erodes our progress from the outside.

CHT’s life is what it is, and we cannot and should not protect her from the reality of its story.  We can only work steadily on together, help her find some shelter from the onslaught long enough to make sense of it, to find some peace within it, and seek the patches of calm that show her it is possible to sometimes simply set it aside.

So for now we are bobbing in the shallows, waiting with lifelines; ready for the next typhoon to lash down as she bravely steps out through the yellow shoals of her mother’s day.

For further reading: see our Mother’s day Toolkit.

A year

People talk of loss as if the big milestone events end with adoption, and only the ramifications continue.

But the loss never ends; letters bring news of new happenings missed, our days are full of moments we wish could be shared, and decisions continue to be made outside our control.

This week marks a year since news came that CHTs Mother, who we had wanted to meet so badly, was dead; probably by her own hand.  In one swift blow the mystery of her Mother can never be unravelled, and is now heightened by the questions behind her death.

We are too late.

This little girl’s grief is profound and no words on this page can capture it.  Bereft, her Mother is gone forever from her reach, along with the answers to why; why their love and kinship was not enough to keep them together.

Surprised by the intensity of my own grief, I came to realize the strength of my bond and my love for this woman; in one sense her fiercest ally and champion.  I also struggled beneath the weight of my intense anger at her in the knowledge of the further devastation it would wreak on CHT, and my growing guilt from the unwitting role I played in the battles of her mind, now the war had finally brought her life to an end.

Mourning joined hands with a grief already felt, and this year has been long and hard.  In many ways we are stronger, stitched together as we try to make sense of this bombshell ripping through our already fragile lives, and again by the aftershocks it brought with it; we were not welcome at the funeral, nor included in the decisions of her estate, were not kept informed, nor recognized as family.   Outsiders once again, the very system that encourages open acceptance of the bonds to a birth family does not in equal measure acknowledge them by law.  Floundering in the complexity of a Mother’s death comforted in the arms of another mother, the people around us unwittingly denied her even the right to grieve.

It is not our way to remember a life through its death, but still we feel the need to mark this day somehow.  So with candles and a song we welcomed her in and remembered: a beloved, bittersweet woman who we knew and loved so well, but was a stranger to us.

AA, we know you suffered deep sorrow and regret at your mistakes, and there is no denying the pain that this caused.  But your little girl is here in my care, and she loves you very, very much.  I promise to always keep a part of you here and alive in me, to pass on to her every day, so she carries the best of us both in her precious heart.

EPIC

EPIC: Equality Participation Influence Change.

A group of 16 young disabled people from across the UK who advise the Government on SEND reforms as part of the Children and Families Bill.  Action for change just doesn’t get better than that.

Supported by the Council for Disabled Children, so far EPIC have:

  • Identified key topics that are most important to EPIC and other disabled young people.
  • Agreed the terms of reference for how the EPIC group will work
  • Received Social model of disability training
  • Helped design the EPIC website and logo.
  • Met with Department for Education policy leads to tell them about EPIC and our work
  • Attended an Action for Kids House of Lords event to hear from other young people about their experiences of participation and see how digital media can support participation
  • Taken part in discussions about some of the proposed changes in the Children and Families Bill.

Check out Katie and Rich’s amazing interview with Children’s Minister Edward Timpson MP


To get involved:

Join the conversation via their Facebook and @Epic_Tweets3  pages

And voluntary organisations can join up via the Council for Disabled Children.

Or just find out more about EPIC here.

 

Labels

A child like CHT comes with labels; so many you can barely see the girl for the tags.

FASD:  condemned before birth to a lifetime of struggle and frustration, these four letters are acid etched by alcohol into the brains and faces of children while still in the womb. Once born, the label is widely unrecognized except by those who carry it; there is little support, and it is devastatingly misunderstood.

Victim of Domestic Trauma:  this sharp edged label is scriven in blood. Penned by a family at war, the twists and turns of every letter cut deep crimson scars, leaving no room for words of tenderness, care or protection.

Looked After Child:  ward of the state, taken.  A label written only in numerals on the side of a file. A case, a report, a court order; lost among the many on a social worker’s desk. Just one more number in the tangled workload of a weary care system.

RAD:  a theory, a diagnosis.  A primal wound ripped into the very fabric of the soul.  A label scrawled like graffiti on a great wall that imprisons love trust and self-belief, and separates a child from their roots and their home.

Sensory Disorder:  a label packed tight with conflicting messages.  Tapped out in code, it’s white noise assaults every sense to scramble any chance of integration and regulation, and makes chaos of the world – inside and out.

Adopted:  an official seal on a dotted line, this label classifies a human as an institution; too complex to do justice here.

Sometimes I wonder which label we are dealing with today, which one is steering her with its complex script.

All these terms render her different:  set apart, misunderstood, marginalized, lonely – all that even before the hateful jibing labels that haunt every child in the playground: fatty, four eyes, big ears, gingernut, stupid, pissyknickers, crybaby, pig pen, welfare…

I hate them; hate them all.  Hate that she was given them, and the power they have over her.  The pain they carry, the way they cling to her, and how they shred her childhood to ribbons.  I hate the way they dominate and obscure her, and force her to live their story. And lastly, I hate that – as she discovers each label and recognizes them in herself – they leave their mark ever deeper in her skin, like tattoos. 

But then – for a moment – she is simply a girl once more.  

Just a kid; a whole kid, unfettered by words.  Running along the link mesh at school during playtime, waving madly and shrieking with surprise; laughter pealing from her lips and light shining from those deep, brown eyes.  Shedding all the labels in an instant, forgotten; fluttering, trampled in her wake like autumn leaves.

No preoccupations, no issues, no disorders, no fears, no trauma, no pain, no wound, no walls; no labels. Just running, elated and happy to see someone she loves smiling back at her from the car window as it flashes past.

No labels – just a kid.

These are the days we label with hope.

 

Read more here on:

Children and Domestic Violence: Women’s Aid

FASD: The FASD Trust

Attachment Disorder (RAD): Dan Hughes

Sensory Disorder: SPD Foundation

Adoption: Loss and change

What has she lost in the short course of her life?

- Her people:

Severed not simply from family and close ones, but from the connections she had to the web of her whole community.  Vaporized in a heartbeat, leaving a bottomless and profound grief that sits alongside the acid sting of whole-scale rejection.   Forsaken and discarded by the people she loved:  ”I’m rubbish.” she says.

- Her things:

Torn from all that was familiar and reassuring.  Her favourite armchair, the mints in the dish, the hiding place in the garden, the hum of the boiler, the crack on the ceiling, her most precious teddy.  Every aspect of the personal landscape that etches into a child’s mind, wrenched away like a thief in the night: “I don’t care anyway.” she says.

- Her culture, her sense of belonging.

Cut off from everything that reflected a sense of place back to her. Her accent, her habits, her mores, her customs her traditions, the taste of a shepherd’s pie, all came suddenly to an end, leaving her an outsider to her own life: “I don’t know what you mean.” she says.

- Her means to share experiences.

Cut off from all her stories and every event that ever happened, she found herself pushed into isolation.  With no common ground, no memory lane, she became a mystery to herself, with no one to answer questions about: how she got her name, her first word, what happened the day she was born, her close encounter with a hedgehog: “You just don’t get it.” she says.

- Her willingness to trust.

As we dare to pick apart the loss, we uncover a shame that infiltrates her very sense of self.  In doubting her own self worth, she also questions the legitimacy of anyone to care for her. Fear thwarts the intimacy that trust demands, and mistakes it for control and blame: “I am just a bad baby.” she says.

- Her openness to love and be loved

Every meaningful intimate relationship and connection she ever made resulted in neglect, abuse, and – eventually – abandonment.  Her willingness to trust, to be cared for and helped, was decimated; replaced with a pain that keeps her pushing hard at arms length from the very love and security that would help her move forward. “I don’t need you.” she says.

And then – as if this isn’t enough – comes the final blow; a total lack of understanding from a society that celebrates adoption with a blindness that negates and opens old wounds time and time again: “You are lucky Mumdrah chose you”, society says.

At the moment she joined me, she lost Everything.

CHT’s adoption song of loss and trust

Letterbox: a guide to indirect contact

What is letterbox, or indirect contact?  This is simply a means to keep in contact with family members and/or foster carers through letters and correspondence.

How will we know what to do?  An agreement will be made before placement.  It is clear and prescriptive about who you are being asked to write to, when, how often, and what to include.

Who decides this, and when?  Each party should feed into the Contact Plan before placement as part of the matching panel, so make your voice is heard.  Remember, you are making decisions for a child; the detail of the plan should be in their interests.

And the legal lowdown?  Some are informal, and some part of the Placement and/or Adoption Order so legal requirements may vary.  It is, however, expected that you follow the recommendations.

Is it safe?   Protocol removes the exchange of addresses; letters are sent securely via a third party letterbox (hence ‘indirect contact’), and content is checked and then forwarded on.  But mistakes are made.  I’ll be blogging about this elsewhere, as well as the impact the letters have on us.

What do you put into the letters?  We begin by writing updates about the tapestry of life: my hair is long, I like spagetti, I won the football, I stayed in a caravan, I got a new tooth.  As she gets older, we also add in more of her burning questions, opinions, and whatever she wants to get off her chest.

How do you go about writing them?  I always work alongside CHT.  First, I grab her short attention span and note down her swift monologue.   Next I type up and ‘extend’ her words into letter form.  I then read it back, and add or remove as she sees fit.  I adapt the letter for each person we write to (sister, parents, foster carer), and then she signs it off and sometimes adds a message.  The whole process usually takes a few days so she can deal with it in small emotional chunks.

What about the photos?  CHT chooses her favourite photos of the year and we make up a collage and print them off on lovely quality photo paper.  We do take care not to choose any photos that identify or place us – like school uniform or landmarks.  Not because of ‘cloak and dagger secrecy’, but because we believe contact of all kinds should be a planned choice on both sides.

Should we include anything else?  CHT often does a drawing – usually just one – which we copy and put into each envelope.

What about the letters we receive?  You may, or may not, get replies.  Family are often not told the same protocol as you are (crazy I know), so may not be sure what they are supposed to do.  Our experience is that if we do get a letter, it usually comes as a reply in response to ours.  The letterbox checking system isn’t fail safe, so I usually do a quick once over of the letters first; this also helps me prepare for what support CHT might need.  The time delay also means that Christmas/Birthday cards for CHT never arrive on time.

What if the letters have difficult or inappropriate content?  From our experience it is pretty evident that no one gets any support or guidance in how to write these letters.  People can easily make mistakes through just not thinking things through.  If there is a clear problem or issue, then communicate this to your letterbox contact person and ask for your needs to be asserted.

Any other Mumdrah tips?

Send from the heart: I always support CHT to create something that reflects what she feels; it helps to imagine what we would want to receive. I don’t just mean the content, I mean the care and consideration put into them.  For us the letters are like lifelines.

Go easy: When we receive letters, sometimes we read them straight away, sometimes CHT wants to wait a while.  Once we’ve read them and poured over any photos that arrived, I copy them and store the originals – along with the accompanying letter from SS -and CHT keeps the copy to look at at her leisure.  This means that we can always make a copy when I find them tearstained under her pillow, forgotten under her bed, ripped up and thrown from the window, defaced and ruined, or screwed up in the bin.

Remember whose letters they are: I have never for one moment considered archiving her letters ’till she is older’.  They are her letters, and it is not my right to withhold them. That would be my general advice, but of course that would change if the content was threatening (but then i think SS would be dealing with that for you).

Continue the connection: If the letters mention a song or similar, we often go and listen to it afterwards.  I try and find any way to strengthen the connection and bridge the divide through the events and the news that are shared in the letters.

Keep everything that comes through letterbox.

See what BAAF has to say about indirect contact.

Letterbox contact – not as daunting as it feels.

Family ties

In Mumdrah’s world, there is nothing simple about Family. 

Convoluted and complex, the warm care and comfort of our family comes with a deep pain hidden in its folds.  Love – for us – walks hand in hand with a hurt that haunts.

On paper we are just one woman and one girl, but in truth we are Legion.

Around our kitchen table sit people shaped holes. We do not know their smells, their feel, or how they like their tea in the morning because our knowledge of them is more illusion than real.  But they still belong with us, like a backbone.  And we favour giving them a presence in our everyday over the mistaken pretence of leaving them behind.

There is no competition, nor rivalry.

The strength of CHTs feeling for each of us is separate and contained, though it may sometimes chafe or collide, ebb or flow.  Accepting the dynamics of this love – far from alienating or undermining us – builds bridges and bonds us closer. The love she has for her mother presents no threat; for her to feel unfaithful would be the measure of my own deep failure.

This is our family, this is our circumstance.

Why hide?  Embrace and explore family ties with honesty, whatever the consequence; in spite of it.  There is no sanctuary from it’s shape, from its history, from its pain; but there is danger in the exile of any one of its parts.  Challenging though it may be, discovering and questioning the reality of her life story helps find a way through the pain.

Turning away from the truth leaves unanswered secrets.

Longing left unanswered becomes backfilled with fantasy. These children come to us young, but will not always be so.  Questions left unanswered now will return – in a year, ten, twenty – swollen and festered with yet more questions about complicity, deception, and time wasted.  Missed opportunities.

Our family may be formed like no other, but it is real; and we embrace it as it is. 

Family ties – for just two of us, we count in more parents and more siblings than you can shake a stick at. 

Introducing Mumdrah

A need inside has been growing.

Competing with the responsibilities, demands and emergencies that rule and shape my everyday. Finally this desire has won a place in my list of priorities; and a blog is born.

There is so much to tell you, so much ready to spill out of me.  But stories are best shared when gently unfolded; so we will start with some basics of navigation in Mumdrah’s world.

Adoption brings out the best, and the very worst in me.  It involves a daily discovery of raw inner strength and resource i never new existed;  the pure, white love of devotional saints, the blood red claws of a protective lioness.  But i also stumble into the black depths of despair, frustration and anger; a selfish triad who slip their chains to release a screaming banshee that – once calm – is crushed by the horrors of her own lack of humanity.  The yin and yang of adoption.

I see this as a journey of four parts: birth parent, adoptee, adopter, and the poor bewildered collective of friends and family dragged unwilling into the intrepid journey. They say there is no wilderness left to explore, and yet the outback territory that adoption leads me into requires a machete.  There is no compass or map to guide us, no local knowledge to welcome or point to the right path; Debrettes can tell us nothing about the rights and wrongs of charting these rough but rewarding seas.

We hope to navigate our way through, knowing there is no way out.  Trying to find and build as much self love and wholeness during our journeying, while scaling the bitterness and trauma to cut it down to size.

Adoption is the forging fire into which we – all four – are thrown; to be hammered, shaped and changed irrevocably.  A process which causes as much pain and torment as it does triumph and agape.  It builds you up and strips you down, exposes you and isolates you, turns you upside down and inside out.

And i wouldn’t have it any other way.